State legislators in North Carolina are seeking to raise the state’s minimum age for marriage from 14 to 18.
The companion bills were introduced in both chambers on Monday, aimed at amending laws that have not been updated for two decades.
North Carolina is reportedly tied with Alaska as the state with the lowest age for marriage.
Current state law requires parental consent for minors to marry. It allows marriage with children as young as 14 years old with court approval in cases involving pregnancy or raising a child, commonly referred to as the “pregnancy exception.”
However, some marriages have reportedly involved girls as young as 12, according to the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW).
Almost 4,000 marriage license applications involving minors were filed in half of North Carolina's counties between 2000 and 2019, meaning upward of 9,100 applications were likely submitted statewide during that time.
Approximately 93 percent of those applications were between an adult and a minor, with over 200 minors marrying someone at least 10 years their senior, ICRW reported. Those legally sanctioned marriage licenses "would have otherwise been a Class-B Felony under the state’s statutory rape laws."
"This state has disturbingly become a tourist destination for those looking to marry children as young as 14," said state Rep. Jason Saine (R) in a statement with the Tahirih Justice Center. "This bill will put a stop to that practice and protect children from North Carolina and around the country.”
Research from the ICRW reportedly shows child marriages correlate to increased rates of poverty, domestic violence, sexually transmitted infections and early pregnancy.
“Child marriage is wrong," state Rep. Brian Turner (D), one of the House bill's many sponsors, said in a statement. "This bill will help put an end to a cruel practice that many times results in human trafficking and teenage girls being placed in dangerous relationships with limited to no legal protections."